|849: Unity Church of Bradenton, Bradenton, Florida, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Mendicant.
The church: Unity Church of Bradenton, Bradenton, Florida, USA.
Denomination: Unity – not Unitarian or Unification. Unity is a 120-year-old American Christian organization that proclaims the divinity of Jesus, but also believes there is good and truth in every religion.
The building: A long, grey and white refitted Florida home on 10 acres of woods and wetlands. The grounds feature an outdoor labyrinth and nature trails, including an ancient live oak tree called "Grandmother Oak".
The church: They have a commitment to preserving the natural beauty and wildlife on the site. Currently, the grounds have about 800 trees. The community seeks to plant 200 more.
The neighbourhood: The church is near a major highway, yet you would never know once you were on the grounds.
The cast: Rev. Allan Bazzy (pastor) and an assortment of really cheerful women.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Service.
How full was the building?
It was packed with 120 people, and extra seating had to be set up outside on the patio.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a big hug and cheerful welcome from a round woman handing out bulletins at the front door.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was conference room chairs with high backs and padded seats. Very comfortable for an hour or so of worship.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Full of chatty, hugging, smiling people, talking and greeting each other with great enthusiasm. There was an audible sound check going on, with people milling in and out. The worship leaders eventually gravitated toward the dais at the front of the room and began when the music team was ready.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to Unity Church of Bradenton, where God is love and you can see it all around you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the leaflet. Words to the songs and prayers were projected on a screen above the dais. When words were not being projected, pictures of waterfalls, roses, fields of flowers, the beach, etc., were projected on the screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric keyboard and guitars played by the three-person music team.
Did anything distract you?
I found the non-service related slides very distracting. Flowers, waterfalls, all very hazy and pretty. I felt like I was in a greeting card store.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy, HAPPY HAPPY Clappy, for sure. The "hymn" (the only song listed specifically as a hymn) was the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn." Sometimes, the congregation tried to clap along to the songs. Occasionally, the song leader shouted "Yee HAW!" The closing song was "Let there be Peace on Earth", sung with everyone lifting their hands and then clasping the hand of their neighbor.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes, including the portion of the sermon that was turned over to a guest speaker, a very dignified African-American elder from a Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 It was odd to have two preachers with such completely different approaches.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The original preacher, the pastor, drew on a verse from Psalms that spoke about God's compassion. He tried to encourage a compassionate attitude, and gave as an example the encouragement he received from the other gentleman, whom he had never met until that day, but only spoken to on the phone. The other gentleman, the elder from the Adventist church, gave a thorough message on the salvation that comes through Christ alone, including the all-important verse, John 3:16. It was an interesting combination of New Age/Positive Thinking and a fairly conservative Christian theology.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The utter joy the worshippers displayed in the companionship of others, overflowing with welcome and happiness and acceptance.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the rhythm-impaired congregation tried to clap along with the songs. If you can't keep the beat, you should put your hands in your pockets.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood right next to the food table, so lots of people passed by me. I really tried to look lost in an active and confused way. Nonetheless, it took 7 minutes for someone to say hello and introduce themselves.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
This was a spread! Coffee, tea, juices, pastries, fresh fruit, muffins, celery sticks, vegetables and dip. You could have quite an effective lunch.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 This was fun for one Sunday, but not my speed for regular spiritual fare. I like a nice pipe organ on a Sunday morning...
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I really believed, "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love," when I saw this congregation greet and love each other. I was sorry they weren't more welcoming to me when I looked lost, but the love they showed each other was a powerful reminder of how we are supposed to behave when we are in community.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All that hugging!